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Activists Vow to Fight Mayor's 'Gentrification Plan' in the Neighborhoods

By Jeff Mays | March 23, 2016 12:28pm
 Affordable Housing Battle Moves to 15 Neighborhoods Facing Rezoning.
Affordable Housing Battle Moves to 15 Neighborhoods Facing Rezoning.
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CITY HALL — Now that the City Council has overwhelmingly approved Mayor Bill de Blasio's zoning plans, the fight for affordable housing shifts to the city's neighborhoods.

De Blasio has chosen 15 neighborhoods around the city where his two zoning proposals— including one that mandates a certain amount of permanently affordable housing— will be put into play.

Activists from neighborhoods around the city such as Jerome Avenue in The Bronx, East Harlem and East New York, the first neighborhood to be rezoned, say they are gearing up to fight for deeper levels of affordability in any new projects that are built.

"We need MIH," said Paul Muhammad of the Coalition for Community Advancement, an East New York group opposed to the neighborhood's rezoning, referring to Mandatory Inclusionary Housing which would mandate some affordable housing in new construction of areas being rezoned, "but in a much more affordable level for the people who live there."

 In neighborhoods like East Harlem, which are waiting to be rezoned, there is a tense nervousness and anger, said Marina Ortiz, of East Harlem Preservation.
In neighborhoods like East Harlem, which are waiting to be rezoned, there is a tense nervousness and anger, said Marina Ortiz, of East Harlem Preservation. "Uptown, we call MIH 'Missing in Harlem'," said Ortiz, "because that's what's going to happen to us."
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Muhammad spoke at a City Hall protest Tuesday morning just hours before the City Council overwhelmingly approved proposals that they referred to as "historic." Some activists later disrupted the City Council hearing and had to be removed by the NYPD.

Many of the groups there said they knew the proposals were inevitable, but they wanted to send a message that they were not going away.

Ava Farkas, executive director of the Metropolitan Council on Housing, called the plans approved by the City Council "not good enough" and said they planned to push the city to do better.

"This plan is not an affordable housing plan, it's a gentrification plan," Farkas said.

READ MORE: Here's How City Council Changed De Blasio's Citywide Rezoning Plan

Under the proposals approved by the City Council, the council member whose district a development is in chooses from several options, mandating different percentages of permanent affordable housing for people making anywhere from 40 percent of area median income, or AMI, to 115 percent.

READ MORE: What is AMI?

Forty percent of AMI is an annual income of $31,000 for a family of three and a rent of $775 for a two bedroom apartment. The City Council negotiated to have this option added to the mayor's plans.

Groups opposed to the mayor's plan have called for the proposal to have an option for people making 30 percent of AMI or about $23,000 per year for a family of three. The AMI in places like East New York is $35,000.

The mayor agreed to complete a study to find ways to deepen levels of affordability outside of MIH in exchange for support of his plans by Real Affordability for All, a coalition originally opposed to the proposal.

Farkas said the study is going to be critical for the neighborhoods being rezoned.

"There's 15 rezonings that are going to be rolled out. In each of those rezonings the communities are not going to be OK with 40 percent of AMI or 60 percent of AMI and he's going to have to find ways to get more affordability," said Farkas.

"When you build 70 to 80 percent market rate housing in low-income neighborhoods what happens? Displacement and replacement of low-income and people of color by whiter and wealthier residents," she added.

In neighborhoods like East Harlem, which are waiting to be rezoned, there is a tense nervousness and anger, said Marina Ortiz, of East Harlem Preservation.

"Uptown, we call MIH 'Missing in Harlem'," said Ortiz, "because that's what's going to happen to us."

Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who represents East Harlem, has proposed an alternative zoning plan for the area that would call for a 30 percent AMI affordable option and for half of new housing to be be affordable.

She says she also sees the plans to be passed by the City Council as a starting point and that she's received commitments from the mayor that agencies such as the Department of Housing Preservation and Development would invest "additional resources" to make projects more affordable.

"My plan is to utilize the community-based plan as a guide for myself for future negotiations," said Mark-Viverito. "There's a lot of room beyond what we are voting on today for the rezoned areas to get additional commitments for deeper affordability."

But Ortiz said some area groups and residents remain skeptical. The lowest current affordable housing option, 40 percent of AMI, remains just that, an option. It is not mandated.

"The word affordability has been co-opted by the government, its been co-opted by developers and we need to take it back," said Ortiz who opposes Mark-Viverito's proposal.

Brooklyn Councilman Jumaane Williams was one of the few to vote against MIH. Because there is no mandated amount of low-income housing, Williams said the plan will keep the city's historic housing segregation intact.

"The plans to be passed today are not the end all to be all," said Williams who was only one of five council members who voted no to MIH in the final City Council vote."I think there is a chance to get deeper affordability in some of these neighborhood plans."

De Blasio, speaking at a press conference at One Police Plaza, said the plan was "quite flexible" and based on "neighborhood realities" around housing needs.

“Some neighborhoods need more lower-income housing. Some neighborhoods need more housing for nurses and cops and firefighters," the mayor said. "Some neighborhoods are more likely to have more private-sector involvement in development. Other neighborhoods, we’re going to need more subsidy to make development happen."

READ MORE: Mayor's Rezoning Plan Hobbled Without 421-a Break, Experts Say

Groups such as Real Affordability for All are calling on the mayor to use density bonuses to entice developers to add more affordability to their projects.

Muhammad said the people who suffered through the bad times in East New York should not be priced out.

"We survived the crack, the cocaine, the redlining and now we are not getting anything for it except telling us to move," Muhammad said. "A plan without us is not for us."